The old wood smoker
By Luke Clayton
May 23, 2022
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Penning a weekly outdoors column is an endeavor I have enjoyed for the past 36 years but at times, I find it a challenge to come up with a topic that I hope to be interesting and maybe even informative. Oh, those weeks when I am busy catching fish or hunting new places the words seem to just appear on my computer screen. But in real life, I’m not always catching big stripers or hunting;  there are those weeks when I stick close to home and that’s when I have to ‘wait’ for a topic to hit me!

The topic for this week was a bit slow in coming! I absolutely love making tasty barbeque from not only game meats but domestic pork, chicken and beef as well.  I was doing a bit of grocery shopping during the morning hours when I noticed pork ‘country ribs’ were on sale. Why not buy a few pounds and fire up my old wood-burning smoker that I haven’t used in several years?

We have some grown ‘kids’ that love smoked barbeque as much as I enjoy making it. I usually use my Smokin Tex electric smoker for slow cooking meats, just set the dial and let it do the cooking while I am busy with other things but these lean country ribs would lend themselves well to a hot pecan wood fire in my old smoker setting under the trees behind my little cabin near the house. Besides, the weather this past weekend was almost fall-like and I was ready to smell some wood smoke!

With a couple big ‘family packs’ of ribs in the basket, I began wondering if my old offset wood fired smoker was up to doing a little work, after all there were holes where the bottom of the fire box had rusted through. The last time I looked, there were remnants of last year’s wasp nests on the inside of the lid! I tried to remember the last time I used my old stick burner and to the best of my recollection it has been at least 10 years! As I departed the store, I mentally accepted the challenge of turning my bargain meats into some tasty barbeque using a smoker that was new 25 years ago! This old outdoor cook was ‘fired up’ and I couldn’t wait to get back home and do a quick survey of my old smoker.

Luke purchased this old smoker about a quarter century ago and recently felt the need to put it back into action. photo by Luke Clayton

I began by splitting some six inch chunks of pecan wood into ‘cook wood’ size sticks. I then found a piece of tin which I roughly bent to fit the bottom of the fire box. Those holes were bigger than I remembered and needed a bit of reinforcement! I removed the rusty old cooking grills and gave them a good cleaning while a hot pecan wood fire heated up the inside of the old smoker. The smell of the wood smoke wafting through the smokestack brought back fond memories of many outdoor cookouts from bygone years. A glance at the weathered but still working thermostat indicated a temperature of near 500 degrees, plenty of heat to thoroughly sterilize the inside of the smoker.

When the fired died down, and with a temperature of about 325 degrees, I added about 12 pound of country ribs, well seasoned with plenty of black pepper, powdered garlic and salt. I gave the ribs about thirty minutes and then turned them, adding a couple sticks of pecan to keep the temperature up. No slow smoking on this cookout, the domestic pork was tender unlike the wild pork I often slow smoke in my electric smoker and in a couple hours, the pork had a nice smoke ring and was fork tender. A liberal amount of good barbeque sauce and the centerpiece of my meal was ready to eat!

I often write about how I enjoy many different aspects of the outdoor life. As the old adage goes, “variety is the spice of life”.  I enjoy hunting with a variety of weapons. Oh, there were those years when I hunted big game exclusively with my bows but later I discovered I was limiting my fun. I thoroughly enjoyed learning about big bore air rifles, muzzleloaders, handguns, etc.  Likewise with the way I fish. I enjoy tossing a noisy topwater plug for largemouth bass or using cheese bait for catfish or vertical jigging lead slabs for stripers! There’s just too much to do to limit oneself to one species or style of fishing, at least that’s the way I see it.

I do have a few friends that insist on hunting for only one species in one particular manner. I know one guy that enjoys hunting hogs using AR’s topped with thermal scopes. To my knowledge, this is the only way he hunts. He’s not interested in trying to harvest a wild hog with a bow from a treestand or using a centerfire for deer hunting in the fall.  I was ‘that guy’ back in my younger years when hunting strictly with my bow. But when I first began learning about muzzleloaders and later crossbows and big bore airrifles, I found the challenge of learning the new weapons to be almost as much fun as actually hunting with them.

These days, I spend time shooting and hunting with all the aforementioned methods and enjoy fishing for everything from northern pike to bluegills. My heart still skips a beat when I find myself in a treestand within bowrange of a deer I wish to harvest or when I settle the sights of my Rattler thermal scope mounted on my little Mossberg .223 rifle on a meat hog at night. If you find yourself needing a challenge to rekindle your fishing and hunting or, outdoor cooking methods for that matter, consider trying something new, broaden your horizons. I truly believe you will have more fun.

These thoughts brought to you thanks to my old wood burning smoker!
Email outdoors writer Luke Clayton via his website